As we gather this July 4th with our families and our communities, we should treasure these moments of togetherness with our loved ones. Yet, we must also acknowledge that the independence being commemorated has not been won for the people of this land. Every “Independence Day” in the U.S. is an opportunity to return to the invocation of Frederick Douglas’, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”,
Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common...The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.
While Douglas’s timeless speech emanates from the position of an enslaved black man, the epitome of America’s constant practice of erasing the stories of the many to serve the market interests of the few, he also offers a helpful frame for reflection: who is independent in America and who is collateral damage for this facade of independence? In 2018, we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world. We go to war more than any other country in the world. We sell more arms than any other country in the world. What to the prisoner is the fourth of July? The indigenous people who were here before white settlers? The children sleeping in cages within detention centers?
In a time where mass outrage has heightened, now more than ever is a time to illuminate the ‘immeasurable distances’ between U.S. citizens and the harm committed in our name around the world. State violence and poverty imposed by imperialism also inevitably separates families. It is not a coincidence that children make up the majority of displaced peoples around the world. In the same week the Supreme Court upheld the shameful Muslim Ban, demonizing majority Muslim nations, 4 of which the U.S. has bombed in the last two years, we saw photos of immigrant children at the Texas border ripped out of the arms of their parents. Yemen, one of the countries placed on the U.S. ban list has been devastated by U.S. and Saudi backed aggression for the past three years. At least 113,000 children have died from malnutrition and preventable diseases such as cholera as a direct result of the war with little to no condemnation of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia for this campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Solidarity is not a luxury. The only future for us to survive within is one of demilitarization, and an end to disaster capitalism, where money and weapons no longer get to criss cross borders with ease while black and brown children are held captive as collateral damage. Why is there enough money to bomb Iraq,Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, but not enough to support the self determination of migrants and refugees fleeing the very violence the U.S. has inflicted? Why is there enough money to sign contracts with private prison corporations like CoreCivic and GEO Group for hundreds of millions of dollars, but not enough money to rebuild Puerto Rico? Why are there billions of dollars allocated to Israel’s military to kill unarmed protestors but not the same investment to clean Flint’s water supply? The consequences of normalizing the immense violence perpetuated under the banner of U.S. exceptionalism ripple far and wide. We are all harmed by the racist misallocation of resources in America towards never ending extraction and destruction. We mourn for all of the lives lost this year serving the war machines.
Even amidst such brutality and violence we are inspired by the resilience and resistance we also see taking place all over the world. In Gaza, the Great Return March has continued for over two months, a historic act of protest demanding the right to return to the land that has been seized and stolen for the past 70 years, inspiring tens of thousands of Palestinians to participate even in the face of mass shootings by the Israeli army. This viral video of Palestinians dancing dabkeh in the midst of sniper shootings says it all.
In the U.S. thousands have rallied around the country demanding ICE be abolished and children be reunited with their families. The Dream Defenders won a resolution from the Florida Democratic party promising to refuse any money from private prison companies like CoreCivic and GEO group and all the PACs and lobbyists tied to them. The people of Puerto Rico amidst a manufactured debt crisis, imposed austerity, and inadequate recovery support following Hurricane Maria, continue to protest even facing down riot police, demanding their right to self-determination.
We hope that this moment continues to help us articulate our radical imagination, our dream for a world without prisons, police, militarized borders, or any structures that build wealth on the backs of our children. There is no independence for some of us without liberation for all of us.